The Hopewell Titans girls' team swept rival North Mecklenburg last year on their way to a 16-9 season and a berth in the state playoffs. But this year's Vikings squad is different from the one that finished 7-16 last year.
The Titans are the No. 8 team in the NCPreps 4A poll, while North Mecklenburg is an honorable mention. Every game is a challenge in the I-Meck conference this year (three of its teams have been ranked in the Observer Sweet 16 poll this year), but the intense rivalry between these two schools will make the game even more exciting.
The Titans (12-2, 3-0 I-Meck conference through Jan. 7) proved that they are a force by beating Sweet 16's then-No. 3 Forestview and beating Harding in the championship of the Bojangles' Shootout.
Coach Gary Richmond said that the win at the tournament proved that they can compete with anyone. But, he said, there's still a lot of room for improvement.
Hunter Meakin and Hannah Early have shouldered the scoring load for the Titans, averaging over 25 points combined. Meakin was impressive in the Shootout, scoring 51 points in three games.
The Titans should expect a hostile environment as they head across town to North Mecklenburg.
The Vikings have rebounded from a losing season last year, starting this season 9-5 (1-2 I-Meck through Jan. 7) under first-year head coach Jennifer Baker.
But the team lost two of their three games in the Fifth Third Bank Holiday Classic over winter break. North Mecklenburg will have to bounce back from those losses as conference play starts in January and the schedule gets tougher.
Lauren Lewis is the team's top performer in scoring and averaging almost four assists and over three steals per game.